A Mighty Arm!
Archibald Brown, East London Tabernacle
"You have a mighty arm! Strong is Your hand, and Your right hand is exalted. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne. Mercy and truth go before Your face!" Psalm 89:13-14
This 89th Psalm is a magnificent poem to the praise of the covenant of God — the covenant made with David, and, through David, made with David's greater Son, for all his heirs unto all generations. Without doubt the psalm was penned by a man who was in deep sorrow of heart. Ethan, whoever he may have been — and many suppose that he lived about the time of the Babylonian captivity — looked round about him and saw that the glory of the house of David had waned, and the throne of David, so far from being established, was seemingly tottering. Filled with sore trouble and dismay, Ethan seeks to comfort his soul by remembering what God had promised to his chosen servant.
Ah, there is nothing like God's covenant for a troubled heart. You, who have never known the meaning of soul anguish and dark depression — you, whose craft has always glided along in smooth waters, may afford to have a religion which has very little of covenant grace in it. But those who are called to do business in great waters, when all frames and feelings worth having are gone, and the storm king is abroad in his fury — know what a sense of unspeakable relief it brings to fall back upon a covenant that is 'ordered in all things and sure'. It is delightful to get out of the realm of ifs and perhapses, and just rest upon the wills and the shalls of a God who cannot lie. Thus Ethan before he makes his complaint, calls to remembrance all that Jehovah had pledged by his word to David.
You will find the word 'faithfulness' in verses 1, 2, 5, and 8. It sparkles all the way through the psalm. Ethan continually reminds his soul, 'God is faithful; God is faithful.' This is the sheet anchor of his heart; and, to encourage himself yet more, he calls to remembrance four attributes of God. You have them in the verses which I have selected as our text.
'You have a mighty arm.' Here is God's might.
'Justice', or as it is rendered in the Revised Version, 'righteousness', 'is the basis of your throne.' Here is right.
And 'Mercy and truth shall go before your face.'
Our God is a God of might, and a God of right, and a God of mercy, and a God of truth. On these four attributes, as on four massive blocks of granite, does the soul venture safely to build her eternal hopes.
Let us for a short time look at these four attributes, and then observe, in closing, that these attributes are glorified in God's covenant of salvation, for that is the teaching of the whole psalm.
First, it may encourage our hearts to remember that our God has a mighty arm — He is OMNIPOTENT. There is nothing weak about Jehovah. You see that even his left hand is strong. The psalm tells us this: 'Strong is your hand, and your right hand is exalted.' The first hand that is mentioned here must be his left, and even that is clothed with might, while his right hand is exalted on high.
Brethren and sisters, our God is not a weak being who can make promises — but has no power to perform them. Our God is not some merely well-disposed being who has the heart to do good to his people — but finds himself unable to carry out all the wishes of his heart. His heart is large to devise — and his hand is equally powerful to execute. Our God has all power. 'Once have I heard this, yes, twice, that power belongs unto God.' This is one of the articles of our creed. God grant that we may never lose sight of it.
Now, the power of our God is not a derived power. I think it is Charnock, in his wonderful work on the attributes of God, who brings out the thought that God's power is an essential force — essential to his very being. All the power that man has is derived. Look at yonder piece of machinery. It is in motion. It works mightily. There is power in every cog of that wheel as it revolves, and yet there is not an atom of essential might. The real power lies beneath, in the engine that drives the whole. There is only power in the cogs, as that power is conveyed by straps and bands. So it is with man.
But the power which God has is derived from none. From no source does he gather it. It dwells within himself. He is the Almighty. His power is infinite. No language can set this forth, for language is finite, and the finite must break down when it attempts the infinite. Conceive, if you can, of an aggregate of all power, and when your imagination has done its best, you will not have begun, for there is no limit to Jehovah's might. Oh, my soul, as these lips speak, fall back upon a power that knows no bounds, and let your heart rejoice itself in a God who has a mighty arm, whose left hand is strong, and whose right hand is highly exalted.
If you look into the psalm you will see that the author celebrates the power of God, first, in its destructive work. Look at the tenth verse: 'You have broken Rahab.' I need hardly tell you that Rahab here means Egypt. To the Jew, Egypt was the very embodiment of might; but Ethan, taught of the Spirit, sings this song, 'You have broken Rahab in pieces as one that is slain.' There is the enemy lying dead on the battlefield, and the war chariot comes tearing along, and thunders over the corpses, and its wheels grind the dead, and turn them into the mire of the field; and, says Ethan, Egypt has no more ability to resist the power of our God, than has the dead man on the battlefield to stop the career of the chariot of war that rolls over him.
'You scatter Your enemies with Your strong arm.' This is a very unpopular view of God just now. God has been stripped of almost all his attributes but love and mercy. But turn back, and look at the records of the Book, and you shall see that your God is not one to be trifled with. When he turns out to fight the battle of his people, none can stand against him, for even Rahab is broken in pieces.
The next verses introduce a further manifestation of the might of God's arm, namely, creation. Listen: 'The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours. As for the world and the fullness thereof, you have founded them.' Creation sings my text, 'You have a mighty arm.'
Give man material to work upon, and I grant you that with wondrous skill he can produce that which delights the eye — but he must have something to begin with. But our God has a mightier arm, for he brings forth wonders from the womb of nothingness. When he took creation work in hand, there was nothing for him to begin with. He said, 'Let there be' — and matter was.
Ethan had not a dash of infidelity about him. Looking up at the heavens and out upon the earth, he exclaimed, 'My God has a mighty arm. How strong is the hand that has reared the pillars of the earth, and stretched the heavens like a curtain!'
And then in that beautiful sentence that follows, he goes on to say that God's power is seen in the upholding of all that he has made. 'Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in your name.' There is not a blade of grass that springs at their feet, or a tree that grows upon their flanks, or a sheep that climbs their summit — which does not testify of the sustaining might of Jehovah's hand. As we read in the Hebrews, 'He upholds all things by the word of his power.'
Dear brethren, do you know what it is to get into the great deeps of depression? Some of us know what it is to get 'down' in the fullest and most doleful sense of the word. Let me recommend to such the cordial of this 13th verse, 'You have a mighty arm.'
Oh, child of God, your Father is not such an one as you have taken him to be. Do you say, 'Oh — but I have got to the end of my resources'? I reply, It did not take you long to get there, did it? But have you got to the end of your God's resources? Do you say, 'I am so depressed that I really do not know what to do'? True — but do you not think that God can see what is best to be done for you? Do you say, 'I have done my last stroke to help myself'? Then fall back upon your God. Your arm is weak — but never mind that. Behold, his arm is mighty. Oh, to know how to find a sincere pleasure in being weak, a real joy in being in difficulties, a delight in being hedged up all round — just because it gives one a better opportunity for saying, 'Now, Lord, step in; I trust alone in you. My weakness clings to your unfailing might.'
Now look for a moment at the next point. In the 14th verse you have the attribute of RIGHTEOUSNESS. 'Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.' In the East the thrones were often supported by pillars. Do you see how striking is the picture? God has a throne. What does it rest on? God's throne rests on two mighty columns: righteousness and justice. They are really one.
I love that word 'righteousness'. Let me contract it. 'Righteousness' is 'rightness'. Oh, what a mercy that this comes after the 13th verse. Can you conceive a more fearful picture than illimitable power without any sense of right? Is it not one which would defy the genius of a Dante to set it forth? My spirit shrinks from so awful a conception. It outdoes the devil a myriad times. The devil has no righteousness — but, thank God, the devil is not possessed of infinite power. Infinite power without infinite right is something which the mind cannot bear to dwell on.
But now let me put the two attributes side by side, and will they not inspire fresh courage in your heart? With infinite might, there is associated infinite right; and the rightness of God is an essential of his nature. He is righteousness itself. All that he does is right. It is not for me to put down my standard of right, and say whether God comes up to that. God is himself the standard. I have only to know what God has done, to find out what is right. God cannot do that which is not right. He must undeify himself before he can do wrong; for, as the fountain, so the stream. He is right; and all his actions are based on righteousness, and are themselves infinitely right.
But I pass on to the next attributes, those of MERCY and TRUTH. See how these are mentioned: 'Mercy and truth go before your face.' Here is an almighty monarch, and he is on his throne, and that throne is based on righteousness. Now the monarch is going forth, and as he goes, he has two trumpeters marching before him, and these are mercy and truth. Each trumpeter gives a blast, to let us know that the King is coming, and the king never comes out without these two, for 'All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth.'
How do they go before his face? They do so in the way of warning. When the Almighty King rises to do his strange work of judgment, mercy sounds the alarm. The King is coming. Beware! Flee! God never strikes anybody, without giving him fair warning.
For a hundred and twenty years mercy blew her trumpet through the lips of Noah, and warned the world of a coming deluge. But, mark it, mercy is not alone. Mercy gives the warning, and truth fulfills it — for the flood did come. Mercy, you see, will give a fair warning; but be not deluded, and say not that, because God gives a warning, therefore the threat shall not be fulfilled.
Mercy says, 'Be warned', and, if the sinner neglects the warning of mercy, truth comes and fulfills the threat.
But, on the other hand, mercy proclaims the promise — and then truth comes and performs it.
Oh, it is beautiful to see these two walking together.
Proud sinner, are you here tonight? Remember that, though mercy is warning, mercy does not stand alone. Every threat which God has uttered — truth shall fulfill. Oh, poor anxious soul, you think that the promise of mercy is almost too good to be true. You need have no such alarm, for side by side with mercy promising is truth performing. Do you see the beautiful picture? We have might and right, mercy and truth — a heavenly quartette.
Now, for a minute or two, I will ask for very careful attention, more especially on the part of those of you who are not saved and know that you are not, and those who are not quite sure whether you are saved or not. Oh, to have a clear and intelligent comprehension of God's way of salvation. I have prayed much before coming here that God would make this part of our sermon the means of bringing some into perfect rest, and I think that he will; but, at least, will you give me your ears, and let me have your attention on this point. All these four attributes of might, right, mercy, and truth are glorified in God's plan of salvation.
To begin with, you will find all four meeting in Christ — all four meeting in the person of the Lord Jesus. In the Eighty-fifth Psalm you have two or three very remarkable verses, which I think cannot be looked into carefully without at once revealing the person of the Lord Jesus. You read, 'Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, who glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from Heaven. Righteousness shall go before him.' Oh, it is a person, then, that is spoken of. 'Righteousness shall go before him, and shall set us in the way of his steps.' These attributes are all meeting. Here is mercy kissing truth. Here is righteousness embracing peace.
Where do we find all these attributes, seemingly at variance one with the other, thus harmonizing and blending? The answer is, 'In an incarnate God.' Mercy and truth kiss each other in him. Truth springs out of the ground, and righteousness looks down from Heaven. All the attributes of God meet in him, not to wrangle or to war — but to sweetly blend.
Bear with me while I remind you that Jesus Christ himself is the mighty arm. 'You have a mighty arm.' I believe that Jesus Christ himself is intended here. Christ is the mighty arm of Jehovah. He is 'the arm of the Lord'. As such he works out salvation, a salvation that is characterized by these three things — righteousness, mercy, and truth.
Righteousness, for, in the 42nd chapter of Isaiah and the 21st verse, you have these words: 'The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake. He will magnify the law, and make it honorable.' The salvation of God is not at the expense of law. God has not simply overlooked sin. He says not to the sinner, 'Well, I will overlook it all. We will not say anything more about it. I feel drawn out in sympathy to you. I will close my eyes to your sin.' No, for his righteousness' sake, the Lord has magnified the law and made it honorable. In whom? In the person of his Son.
If you want to know what the righteousness of God is like — look at the suffering, bleeding Son of God. Behold in him how much God values righteousness. His throne of mercy has righteousness and justice for its basis. In the 3rd chapter of Romans and the 25th verse, you read concerning Christ, 'whom God has set forth to be a atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood'. Now note — 'to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus.'
God's salvation is based upon his righteousness. If you had gone into the Holy Place of the tabernacle of old, you would have seen there an oblong box, on the top of which there was a golden slab, and over the golden slab were two cherubim; and if you had asked Aaron, 'What is that golden slab?' he would have told you, 'That is the mercy-seat where God meets with us.' True but supposing that you were to ask another question, 'On what does the mercy-seat rest?' Aaron, had he been allowed to do so, would have lifted up the golden lid, and said, 'Look in'; and you would have found the two tables of stone with the law of God engraved upon them. Mercy rested on an honored law. God met man at the mercy-seat — but the mercy-seat had for its basis righteousness and justice.
I need not tell you how mercy and truth come into God's salvation. You all know that. Mercy runs and seeks the sinner; mercy brings him home; mercy kisses him; mercy clothes him; mercy takes him into her house and feeds him; mercy puts him among her children; and mercy sets the bells of Heaven ringing because he is saved.
Yes — but truth has her part. God has kept his word in every part of this salvation. God said that sin could only bring the penalty of death. Has God kept his word? Yes. God never relinquished the penalty. Behold Jesus lying cold and still in the tomb, and then deny it if you can. God has kept his word. Even when the substitute is his own Son, the penalty is not relaxed. I praise God tonight for a salvation that rests on righteousness, honors truth, and sends mercy singing for joy around the world.
Perhaps some of you have on your bookshelves at home Ralph Erskine's sermons. If so I would advise you to take them down and begin to read them tonight. See whether you have that well-known sermon on the 10th verse of the 85th Psalm: 'Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.' I know that if you begin to read it you will have to read it right through, for there is a strange charm about it. He works out the idea that all the attributes of God kept meeting in the life of Jesus. He pictures how they all met in the manger. They look at the young babe, and they begin to shake hands. They are all reconciled in him. They met together in Gethsemane, and Ralph Erskine puts it thus (if my memory serves me rightly), that righteousness and mercy and peace so wanted to kiss each other, that they pressed Christ between them until great drops of blood fell to the ground. Righteousness and peace did kiss each other in the breaking heart of Jesus. Their lips met there. And as he hangs upon the tree, righteousness looks up and says, 'I am satisfied!' And peace, mercy, and truth all group themselves round about that dying one, and embrace each other as they sing, 'We all meet in him!'
Dear sinner, the salvation which I offer you tonight in my Master's name is not one which rests upon some frames and feelings of your own: 'Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound. In your name shall they rejoice all the day, and in your righteousness shall they be exalted.' Does some soul say, 'Oh, sir, tell me how I can be saved'? I will tell you. Put your faith where God has placed your salvation. You will find that in the 19th verse of this psalm, God says, 'I have laid help on one that is mighty.' God has put all the help that poor sinners need upon his own mighty One. Go and rest your faith just where God has placed your help. Go, poor, helpless, and weak as you are, and say, 'O my God, where you have put my help I now put my trust; and on Christ's mighty arm do I now put my hand!'
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm
On Your kind arms I fall.
Be Thou my strength, my righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.
May God bring you to this trust! Trust him, trust him, and you shall go out of this building singing, 'You have a mighty arm — it has rescued me! Strong is your left hand, for it has grasped me. Highly exalted is your right hand, for it has lifted me up from the pit!' Go, trust the salvation that is based on righteousness — buttressed by truth, and crowned with mercy. The Lord grant that it may be so, for his name's sake! Amen.